Cambodia's National Cancer Center – a more than $23 million modern teaching facility – was inaugurated at Calmette Hospital yesterday, though the centre’s director and experts acknowledged that oncology services still fall well below the country’s demand.
During an interview yesterday, Dr Eav Sokha, director of the new centre, said there are only 26 oncologists for the more than 15 million people in the country. Of those, 20 will be working at the centre, with the other six working at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital’s Oncology Department – the only two public locations in the country providing such services.
The majority of the funding for the new centre came from the government, with contributions from France and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), among others. The centre will offer cutting-edge treatment, such as nuclear medicine, hematopoietic stem cell transplantations, radiation, chemotherapy and paediatric oncology. The centre will start seeing patients in the next two weeks.
The facility, which will also have its own quality of life unit for those suffering from terminal cancer, will be a teaching facility, with the first five oncology residents starting this summer, Sokha said. It will accept five residents every year.
Currently, the Kingdom is still “very far from [meeting] the real demand” for oncology services, he added, explaining the centre aims to expand accessibility of treatment.
“We will train more and more human resources on a yearly basis to expand our project,” he said. “Here in Cambodia, we hope that in 10 years, we will reach a team of 70 to 100” oncologists.
Ninety percent of the centre’s 20 oncologists have already completed nuclear medicine and stem cell transplant training by the IAEA, with the remaining two expected to complete their training by the end of this year, Sokha said.
The IAEA didn’t respond to a request for comment.
There are also plans to build two more national cancer centres to increase coverage, though Sokha acknowledged he didn’t know whether that goal can be achieved or not.
Dr Khim Sam Ath, technical officer for non-communicable diseases and health promotion at the WHO in Cambodia, said the opening of the national centre was a “good starting point for Cambodia to advance cancer treatment”.
“Right now, when we talk about cancer control, this is a good time for Cambodia to start,” he said.
But challenges in Cambodia will remain even after the sophisticated new facility is fully operational, he added. The country needs to improve screening and early detection, as well as expand services to various regions.
Sam Ath said it’s difficult for people from the provinces to come to the capital for treatment, and they often arrive with a terminal stage cancer.
“It’s very hard for people living far away from Phnom Penh,” he said. “It’s very hard to receive proper diagnosis and treatment.”
Cambodian-American doctor Mengly Quach, a frequent commentator on health care in the Kingdom, also said the new centre was a good start, but questioned how accessible treatment would be to the poor.
“A lot of [people] cannot afford [treatment], so they go back home,” he said, adding that many still use traditional medicine instead.